Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 1 January 1863

Date: January 1, 1863

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 19-21. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00395

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert

Brooklyn, N. Y.
Jan. 1st 1863

Dear brother Walt,

"Happy New Year" Walt, to you, is the wish and greeting of your Mother and brothers and sister in Brooklyn, and Hattie too says to send Happy new Year for her too to Uncle Walt. I received the letter that you wrote me in due time and yesterday Mother received one from you1  I wrote to you two letters2 and directed [them] to the "Delevan House, cor. of Pennsylvania and West Ninth Streets.["]3 Dear Walt, what hours of trouble you must of past till you found George  Mother and Mat each had a "good cry" yesterday in reading of how you had to get along, and I myself could hardly keep the water from my face  If you had only been coming home they say, and lost your money, twould have been no matter  but to loose it when you did not know how much you might need it on Georges account, must have made you felt miserable indeed.4 And then the damnable conduct of those "big bugs" (I believe the biggest bugs are ["]tumble turds") that you speak about must have made you feel doubly provoked.5 But the most trying scene of all must have been your sight in front of the Hospital tent, not knowing how severely George was wounded. I should think that it would almost have been too much for you.6 But thank God, it has all come out right, and George was not much hurt.

I have written George, somewhat urging him to quit the army.7 I think that it is the duty of all of us to urge this upon him, I honestly think that he has done enough and run risk enough for any one man. And too there is no judgement used in putting the old regiments in battle, they just keep throwing them in as long as there is a man left. If I belonged to one I am sure that it would look to me just as if they were bound to kill every man as long as the number of the Reg. was represented Walt do see and talk this matter over with him  Speak with him of Mother, who is getting old very old, and if anything should happen [to] him I am quite sure she could not survive it  Even now I can see the effect of the weeks worry that she has already had.  Certainly no one could find any fault with him, or talk of him other than the bravest of the brave if he should resign to-morrow. And another thing I certanly do not see how this immense risk and sacrifice of life is doing any good at all, it looks very much to me as if we were slowly but surely drifting towards mediation or something worse. Walt, I beg of you, do not neglect to see George and put this thing in its strongest light. Just think for a moment of the number of suckers that are gaining all the real benefits of the war (if that is not wicked to say) and think of George and thousands of others running all the risk while they are drawing all the pay. Think of Dick Butt8 and the thousand [other?] sneaks that we know. If he wont resign see if there is no possible way in which he can be removed for a while at least from his present place to one of less danger. Dear Walt I honestly think that he is carrying the life of our Mother, dear dear Mother with his own, and therefore I say tis our duty 9 to urge him to resign and his duty 10 to do it. Again and again let me say that if possible accomplish it11

Friday 2nd. I intended to mail this to you yesterday but not having a stamp and not being able to get one could'nt do it. I have just taken dinner with Mat, Mother and Sis. on "Turkey." Knowing the locality you can imagine the whole performance to a niceity. I only wish that you and George had been with us, then the thing would have been complete. Mother is pretty well, but shows the effects of her anxiety about George, I think, quite plainly. On New Years Eve old Mr Turner12 next door, died, quite suddenly I believe. The old man I saw out but a few days since  Otherwise I beleve things are about as usual.  How about you Walt, what are you trying to get to do. How about Money. If you get hard pushed let me know and I will try and raise you some. I am going along as usual, earning about half time with a "constant" prospect of doing better. Of course if you can poultice any thing so as to draw a little money out of it why do so, but dont be discouraged if you cant. I would rather see you and George come home to-gether than any amt of Green-backs. I understand that our old friend Bill Hart13 is on here, wounded in the battle of Fredricksburg—, quite badly, but will recover. Mother sends her dearest love also Mat, ditto the rest of us. Write me at once and let me know how you are getting along. I was much, very much interested by your letters and want it repeated. Good bye dear Brother

Yours very truly J.

Mother had a letter from Heyde to-day  Han is quite well. Mary writes that Fanny is married14


1. Walt Whitman's letter to Jeff of about December 28, 1862, is not extant. See Walt Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of December 29, 1862[back]

2. These may be Jeff's letter of December 19, 1862, and one letter that is not extant. [back]

3. The Delevan House, 315 West Ninth Street, was a boarding house run by Henry T. Bates. [back]

4. Whitman fell victim to a pickpocket in Philadelphia while changing trains en route to Washington. [back]

5. Whitman had written of his search for George among the numerous military hospitals in Washington and his frustration as he tried "to get access to big people." He complained that Moses Fowler Odell, a member of the House of Representatives from New York, "would not see me at all" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 59 n.3). "Tumble turds" is an Americanism for the common dung beetle. [back]

6. Shortly before finding George at the Fredericksburg battle site, Walt Whitman had encountered "a heap of feet, arms, legs, &c, under a tree in front [of] a hospital, the Lacy house" (Miller, 1:59). [back]

7. Jeff's letter of about December 30, 1862, is not extant. George replied on January 8, 1863, that he was thinking of requesting a furlough or perhaps even resigning. [back]

8. Richard Butt (1819–?), a Brooklyn surveyor, was appointed as a major in field and staff, First Regiment, New York Engineers, on December 3, 1861, and served until April 22, 1864. Jeff may consider him a "sneak" because his unit saw little action, spending most of its time in comparative safety at Fort Pulaski, Georgia. [back]

9. This word was double underlined in Jeff's letter for special emphasis. [back]

10. This word was double underlined in Jeff's letter for special emphasis. [back]

11. Jeff's continuing fears led Walt Whitman to remark on January 16, 1863, "I feel that you and dearest mother are perhaps needlessly unhappy and morbid about our dear brother—to be in the army is a mixture of danger and security in this war which few realize—they think exclusively of the danger." [back]

12. David R. Turner was a house painter. [back]

13. Williiam G. Hart, a captain and acting assistant adjutant general in Company K of the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, suffered a gunshot wound in the right forearm on December 13, 1862, and was granted twenty days sick leave on December 15, 1862. [back]

14. Charles Heyde repeatedly informed the Whitman family of Hannah's health. Mary Elizabeth Whitman Van Nostrand, Jeff's other sister, had married in 1840 and borne five children, of whom Fanny was the oldest. [back]


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